On Friday night at Mollenkopf Stadium, the Raiders faced off against the Fitch Falcons in what proved to be a solid half of football for Harding. Entering the locker room at halftime with a two possession lead, the Raiders were just another half away from hosting a home playoff game on October 27th.
The Fitch Falcons stormed back and took the second half opening drive 16 plays, scoring a touchdown to cut their deficit to 6. On the ensuing drive, Raiders running back Antonio Smith coughed up the football and the very next play Fitch scored on a gadget play to take a 14-13 lead with plenty of time remaining in the third quarter.
For a quarter and a half, both teams played physical defense and it was very difficult for Fitch and Harding to gain big explosive yards on the ground or in the air. Harding had two opportunities in the fourth quarter to take a two point lead, but failed to do so on both attempts. Kicker Jake Daugherty missed a 40+ yard field goal attempt and the potential game-winner late in the fourth quarter was blocked.
Missed opportunities proved to be costly in this matchup and the offense struggled to get their footing again after a fast start. The OHSAA playoffs begin this week and the Harding Raiders will visit a familiar foe in Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, a team that they lost to 42-28 in week 4 earlier this season.
St. Vincent-St. Mary Report:
After beating the Raiders in the first contest, St. Vincent-St. Mary dropped four of their last six games and ended the regular season with a 5-5 record. The playoff game will be this Friday, October 27th at 7 p.m. and it will be at Green Street Stadium / John Cistone Field.
St. Vincent-St. Mary Offense:
Offensively, senior quarterback Markelle Carter is in a rotation at quarterback for the Irish and versus the Raiders in the first matchup, Carter was not a big factor as he threw for only 31 yards with a long of 18 yards and rushed on seven attempts for 28 yards.
Last week, the Irish used not one, not two, but three quarterbacks in their game versus Benedictine. #12 Rylan Hurley, #15 Markelle Carter, and #17 Ryan Taylor are the three quarterbacks according to the depth chart. Receiver Kai White scored a 30+ yard touchdown and Carter rushed up the middle for a rushing touchdown. The Irish won 20-7 over the Benedictine Bengals, their first win in over a month after a four game skid.
The biggest issue in the first matchup was Harding's inability to stop the Irish's rushing attack. 22 carries for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns with a long of 56-yards is something that needs to be prevented in the second matchup between both teams.
The Irish will once again try to establish a rushing game but the good news for Harding is that over the last two games versus two very good football teams in Massillon and Austintown Fitch, the defense prevented both teams from establishing a rushing attack. It was up to Massillon and Fitch to turn to the passing game, which worked very well for both teams.
St. Vincent-St. Mary Defense:
Defensively, St. V still employs a 4-3 front. When it relates to the back end and the coverages, they over the last few weeks have done more read concepts. Cover 2 read and cover 2 read lock are big plays for the secondary. They can still run cover 0 but they are happy with their read concepts over the last few weeks of play.
If a team gets into Trips, they continue to play zone to the Trips side and then lock up the single receiver side in man-to-man. Many schools call this coverage strategy differently; some names include Cover 3 Lock, Cloud Lock, etc. They did this same concept when they played Harding in week 4 and they have most recently played this in their week 10 matchup versus Benedictine.
As for the defense as a whole, St. Vincent-St. Mary is going to continue to rely on their defensive front to make plays and then their backend just needs to not bust any coverages and wrap up and all will be fine for the defense. They are a bend but don't break defense - this means that the defense may allow the opposing team to take checkdowns and gash them in the passing game, but when it comes down to getting in the red zone, they prevent the teams from scoring.
The Irish's defense is very beatable as shown in their amount of points allowed in their 4 straight losses.
Loss - 13-43 (Allowed 43 pts)
Loss - 20-24 (Allowed 34 pts)
Loss - 13-20 (Allowed 20 pts)
Villa Angela-St Joseph
Loss - 14-45 (Allowed 45 pts)
Total pts allowed: 142 in 4 week span
Overall, if Harding's offense can establish an ability to move the football, similar to what they did in the third and fourth quarter of the first matchup versus St. V's, it is possible to score points on this defense. Lets not forget that even though the Irish put in their backup players in that third and fourth quarter, Harding did take the opening drive of the football game for a touchdown versus Akron's starters -- so it is very possible to move the football on this defense.
If the offense can score and sustain long drives, and the defense can stop the run, the Raiders have a chance in week 11.
At a Glance:
Warren Harding Raiders
Head Coach: Steven Arnold
Record: 68-59 (4-6 - 2023)
Years as HC: 12
Record Last Year: 2-8
League: All-American Conference
Defense: 3-4, Multiple
Aug. 18 - Canton McKinley - Loss - 14-33
Aug. 26 - at Akron Buchtel - Win - 20-16
Sept. 1 - Farrell - Loss - 17-24
Sept. 8 - at St. Vincent St. Mary - Loss - 28-42
Sept. 15 - at Ursuline - Loss - 20-56
Sept. 22 - Chaney - Win - 26-7
Sept. 29 - Boardman - Win - 38-20
Oct. 6 - at Cardinal Mooney - Win - 24-21
Oct. 13 - at Massillon - Loss - 14-48
Oct. 20 - Austintown Fitch - Loss - 13-14
Oct. 27 - at St. Vincent St. Mary (Round 1 OHSAA Playoffs)
At a Glance:
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary
Head Coach: Terry Cistone
Record: 13-9 (Includes 5-5; 2023)
Years as HC: 2
Record Last Year: 8-4 (2-1 in Playoffs)
Aug. 8 - Mansfield Senior - Win - 35-14
Aug. 25 - at Perry - Win - 16-14
Sept. 1 - at Wayne - Loss - 11-22
Sept. 8 - Warren G. Harding - Win - 42-28
Sept. 15 - at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin - Win - 35-0
Sept. 22 - Walsh Jesuit - Loss - 13-43
Sept. 29 - Ursuline - Loss - 20-34
Oct. 6 - at Harvest Prep - Loss - 13-20
Oct. 13 - Villa Angela-St Joseph - Loss - 14-45
Oct. 20 - Benedictine - Win - 20-7
Oct. 27 - Harding (Round 1 OHSAA Playoffs)
The Raiders will face off against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Friday, October 27 at 7:00 p.m.
OHSAA tickets will be sold on the official website. You must show them the ticket at the gate.